Another Season, Another Set of Dodgy Games in Canadian Soccer
It should not have to come to this.
Another August. Another set of phone calls. Another set of high-suspicious games in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL).
It all starts with another conversation with a professional gambler.
He has been talking to an illegal bookmaker in Malaysia.
The bookmaker offered him information on fixed matches in the CSL played a couple of weeks ago in Southern Ontario.
The more that it goes on, the more it stays the same.
The question from the Asian bookmaker to the Canadian pro-gambler was – how easy is it to approach Canadian players? The implication of his question being that surely Canadians – honest, decent Canadians – would not be open to bribery and corruption!
Oh, if only that were so!
Want to fix soccer matches in a semi-professional league and ensure that no one will stop you or even start an investigation? Welcome to Canada!
The professional gambler pointed out to the Asian bookie that it is all too-easy to approach Canadian players to fix matches in the CSL. In fact, not only is it easy to approach players, there is no effective way for players to report these approaches.
This conversation was substantiated by a call to Andreas Krannich at the company SportRadar. Mr. Krannich told me that in the last eight weeks, they have seen three suspicious matches in the Canadian Soccer League. They are convinced that these matches may have been fixed.
This is big stuff.
For the uninitiated, SportRadar is the company that UEFA and Major League Soccer (MLS) relies onto monitor their matches to ensure that they are free from fixing. They are the best of the companies that have cropped up to monitor the gambling market.
The evidence they have gathered would, in Europe, often trigger police investigations.
When I was testifying in Greece for the anti-corruption agency investigation into fixing in football in that country. The key starting point of the police work were the match reports by SportRadar. So when they red-flag games in other countries things start to happen.
Here in Canada, Sport Radar cannot get their e-mails returned by the Canadian Soccer League. They wrote to them on July 6 of this year stating that they had seen suspicious matches that were taking place in the CSL. The CSL executives, thinking it was a sales pitch, did not return their e-mails.
This is the core of the problem. It is not that there are CSL players who might take money on the side to lose a game. It is that the Canadian Soccer League and the Canadian Soccer Association have known about this problem for years and they have refused to take any practical, serious measures to prevent corruption.
Here is some background to put this story into context:
The Canadian men’s team has only been to the World Cup once in 1986. That team, that golden generation of Canadian soccer was devastated by a match-fixing scandal in the Merlion Cup in Singapore. So you would think that our soccer administrators would be right on top of this issue – to make sure it would never happen again.
In 2011, in a German court a Croatian match-fixer confesses to fixing a game in Canada. Note the word – confess – there are no easier ‘gets’ in terms of investigating and prosecuting a case. But does any official in Canada investigate?
Since that time, the great Ben Rycroft, the Canadian soccer journalist, pushes and pushes to investigate the fixing. His work is highlighted in a CBC documentary last year. Does it spur any Canadian soccer official to put into place any serious, practical measures to prevent it from occurring again?
In January of 2013, I was a keynote speaker in Rome at a combined Interpol/UEFA/FIFA conference. The Head of Interpol, Ron Noble, spoke specifically about the problems of corruption in Canadian soccer. He then repeated those remarks when Interpol/CONCAFF/FIFA had a similar meeting in New York. Canadian soccer officials were at that meeting. Did that spur them into making Canada the best protected country in North America against fixing?
I spoke at length with the Canadian Soccer League about this story. They claimed that they would have loved to do something about this issue, but they have had no direction from the Canadian Soccer Association.
The Canadian Soccer Association would not make any public comment. Privately, I could not find anyone in Canadian soccer who said that the CSA had done anything to help the fight against match-fixing. The CSA may have done something – I just cannot get them to say anything about it. Nor is there any indication that they have run any campaigns on their website.
Here is what they could do with a minimum of effort:
– Establish one phone line so that referees and players can report corruption attempts directly to one person.
– Have an integrity officer
– Implement an education program for players/referees
– Have a highly-publicized way of ensuring that all players are paid the amounts stipulated in their contracts on-time.
A few years ago, I spoke to a bewildered German police officer who had helped crack the original fixing investigation. “We have nine countries involved in this network,” he said, “Eight of those countries have sent police officers and started investigations. The one exception is your country – Canada. We do not understand why they have not taken this seriously…”
And so it goes on….
Stay tuned for further investigations and more details on this story.